Coroner’s office doctor takes stand in murder trial
Day three of a murder trial in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court brought Dr. Kenneth Gerston, forensic pathologist at the Franklin County Coroner’s Office in Columbus, to the stand.
Gerston examined the body of 30-year-old Justin Adams, following his murder in January of last year.
On trial for the murder of Adams is Justin Wilson, who is represented by defense attorney Gene Meadows and denies killing Adams. Co-defendants in the case are Derek Rice, who previously pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and is serving an 11-year prison sentence, and Nicole Eller, who previously pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and third-degree obstruction of justice and is serving a 14-year prison sentence, testified Tuesday and Monday respectively.
Opening statements from prosecution Monday informed the jury that the murder was the result of a robbery gone badly. Rice and Eller conspired to take money and drugs from Adams with the help of Wilson, who brought the gun. Prosecution continued, saying that when Adams wouldn’t give up the money and drugs, Wilson became violent, pistol-whipped the man in the head, threw him on the couch and finally shot him in the left eye from close range, killing him.
Defense said there are holes in the case that create doubt.
Lawrence County prosecuting attorney Brigham Anderson asked Gerston to first talk about his background, including education and employment history. Gerston confirmed that he did perform the autopsy on Adams on Jan. 20, 2015, before photos were shown to the jury.
Anderson asked Gerston what was determined to be the final cause of death in this case, to which Gerston replied “a gunshot wound to the head and chest.”
Adams was shot in the face from close range on the night of Jan. 13, 2015, at 37 Township Road 616 in South Point. The first photo shown displayed Adams’ face and the gunshot wound to the left eye near the nose. Gerston pointed out the stippling, or the pattern of small dots still visible around the gunshot wound created by gun powder and other particles discharged when a gun is fired, noting stippling is only visible in a pattern from close range.
“In order to produce a pattern of stippling, I’m estimating the gun was fired approximately between 3-18 inches from the victim’s face,” Gerston said. “But there’s no way it was two or three feet away.”
This matched up with what Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Investigator Shane Hanshaw said when he testified Monday.
The next photo shown displayed the top of Adams’ scalp, which contained a laceration. Gerston determined the wound to be the result of blunt force trauma, although he could not determine how many times Adams was struck on the head.
On Tuesday, Rice testified that Wilson stuck Adams several times with the gun before pushing him on the couch where he was shot.
“I can’t testify how many times he was struck in the head, but the mark on the head was caused from blunt force trauma,” Gerston said.
Another photo shown displayed Adams’ face, where marks on the neck were shown. Gerston said the marks were approximately 3 inches long and 1.5 inches away from each other, but did not match up with hands, but rather a shirt collar or clothing of some sort.
The last photo shown displayed Adams’ back and the incision made by Gerston to determine the projectile and to retrieve the 9 mm cartridge. Gerston said that with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, he determined the bullet to enter the face in the left eye socket traveling downward, where it entered the neck and chest, damaging vital veins, and was finally recovered in the victim’s back.
Next to take the stand was Lawrence County Sheriff Detective Jason Newman, who interviewed Rice and Eller before and after their arrests as well as Wilson, when he was arrested in Huntington about two weeks after the shooting.
An audio recording of more than two hours was played for the jury, which included the dialogue between Wilson, Newman and Lawrence County Sheriff Detective Aaron Bollinger, who was with Newman during the duration of the recording. The recording begins with Newman and Bollinger picking Wilson up from the Western Regional Jail in West Virginia to extradite him to Lawrence County, stopping at the crime scene and finally arriving at the Lawrence County Jail.
At the crime scene, Wilson’s story to Newman and Bollinger varies, but he remains adamant of his innocence. In the recording, Wilson talks about trying to sell a Play Station 4 to Adams as the reason he was involved. He is also heard saying that he did shoot the gun, but as he was running away and didn’t know anything happened, that he gave the gun to Rice, who had his own bullets and shot the gun, and that he was protecting himself from a knife he said Adams had and was threatening him with.
A second recording was played of an interview between Newman, Bollinger and Wilson after arriving back at the Lawrence County Jail, before recessing for the afternoon. The trial continues today in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.